On Word Count

wordsI love to tell stories.

I mean, that’s not so bad, right? When I was young, I just wrote the story. But at some point, you start measuring your work. A story is one page or two. Or maybe twenty or thirty pages.

When you begin to “study” writing, no matter what type of storytelling, you begin to talk more about word count. Deal with editors, and you will talk about it in depth. “How many words is it?” “I feel you should cut 2k words, at least.” “You should add 20k words to this novel.” (I know, it might surprise you to know I’ve been told that, if you’ve ever read one of my works.)

There are a great deal of details involved, and for us artsy types, we hate it. And we especially despise the limiting nature of titles – a novel is 70k, a novella is 40k, a short story is …. You get the picture.

Agents and writing books and seminars will tell you the same thing. Write the book you want. Be real. Be original. But here are the rules of publishing. Of course there are. There are rules for everything, and every writing book and seminar that does it well is able to do this – tell a group of people who’s very existence is to break rules how to follow them. It is a tall order, I assure you.

We are told that for a first book, an agent or a publisher will want it to be 80k words or less or whatever. But we all want to write a book longer than that.

It is not easier for those like me who self-publish. If I write an epic fantasy, my books will cost more than others based on simple mathematics and economics. More ink, paper, weight … more words means it costs more.

I cut A LOT out of The Living Stone. I was proud to keep it as short as I did, for an epic fantasy. My Twilight of the Gods books are shorter, by design, as was the Pack. But The Blades of War was longer, at 14ok, and I’ll be lucky to keep The Fire Reborn at 150k.

To writing seminars, these are too long. But as I look at the genre, they are below average in length, so I’m not too worried. The Fire Reborn might need to hit 160, to tell the story that needs to be told.

To give you an idea of the length of the books you are familiar with, here is a great link I found.


Suffice it to say, even if I get The Fire Reborn to 160k, it’s just over half of the first Song of Ice and Fire book, Game of Thrones. Gone with the Wind is almost 300k words. Didn’t seem to hurt it.

The goal is to tell the story that needs to be told. Don’t drag it out, but don’t rush it, either. Do what it takes to make it a good read that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Yes, you will have to cut mercilessly, but sometimes a better pace means adding, not to explain but to show. If that takes 5k words or 5ook, you’ll have an engaging story and get fans.


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